While I agree with much of what Justin Raimondo wrote in his review of Chalmers Johnson’s Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire (“An Empire, If You Can Bear It,” Opinions, September), I must take issue with some of his “facts.” First, the “American military machine” has not become autonomous; it is, rather, completely under the thumb of an irresponsible national executive. With the notable exception of Hugh Shelton, the service chiefs never gave their blessing to the Kosovo “adventure,” nor to Haiti, nor Bosnia. However, recognizing their subservience to civilian authority, they knuckled in each case.

With the exception of the Marine Corps, morale in the services is at rock bottom, thanks to a regular diet of political correctness served up by a secretary of defense who lacks any interest whatsoever in the people who make up our Armed Forces. A recent query of middle-grade officer students at the Army’s Command and Staff College at Fort Leavenworth showed complete distrust of their uniformed leaders, in part because of the continuing feminization of the Army.

Finally, the defense industry that permitted this nation to overwhelm the Soviets in military capability is now only a faint shadow of its former self The local Lockheed Missiles and Space Co. employed over 30,000 people 15 years ago. It is now down to about 8,000 and had to merge with Martin Marietta for either to survive. As for the services growing, the Navy now consists of about 320 ships, not much over half of what it had at the peak of the Reagan buildup. Moreover, projected strength in 2010 is about 200 ships.

Regarding quixotic embarrassments such as Kosovo, I agree with Mr. Raimondo. However, we do have legitimate interests in areas around the world, such as the South China Sea, a major focal point of world shipping. Freedom of the seas has been a major objective of American foreign policy since the founding of the republic.

        —Robert C. Whitten
Commander, U.S. Naval Reserve (Ret.)
Cupertino, CA

Mr. Raimondo Replies:

Commander Whitten is certainly right that the current administration is not popular with the military and that morale in the services is low: After all, the prospect that you will be sent, at a moment’s notice, to the four corners of the earth to administer a dose of “humanitarianism” to the locals is not what most servicemen signed up for. It is like auditioning for the part of Rambo only to wind up being cast as Mother Teresa.

As for the idea that the military has become “autonomous,” what Chalmers Johnson and other critics of the military industrial complex have said is that the momentum for the expansion of our overseas empire is built into the system. Commander Whitten complains arms manufacturers are merging to offset the losses of the post-Cold War era. But what is the alternative? To continue to expand our capacity to make war even as the threat of war recedes?

The Cold War is over; no nation on earth poses a direct threat to our legitimate interests—not even in the South China Sea. One word from the American president could reduce all of China to a cloud of radioactive dust; the only threat we face is our own hubris.

It may be true that, with our present resources, we are “overextended,” this doesn’t mean that those resources ought to be increased. Rather, the scope of the mission should be radically reduced. Why do we need to be able to fight two major wars simultaneously? We don’t need to build more warships: Let the workers who formerly were employed by Lockheed and Martin Marietta find a more productive occupation in the private sector.

Regarding Commander Whitten’s final point about the United States enforcing “freedom of the seas,” I can only hint at the questions it raises by asking where else, aside from the South China Sea, this alleged “freedom” needs to be protected. Will we now claim hegemony over all the world’s oceans, and even such landlocked lakes as the Caspian Sea?